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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC will oversee national government affairs, appoint a new cabinet, and determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a national referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition process to a close.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. The shift from an appointed interim government to elected leaders may provide the government more democratic legitimacy and better enable it to make decisions in key areas, such as security, fiscal affairs, and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. Libyans are debating the proper balance of local, regional, and national authority and the proper role for Islam in political and social life.

Security conditions are mostly stable, although armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country amid periodic flare-ups in a number of local conflicts. In some cases, these groups work to provide security in coordination with national authorities and in other cases they operate on an independent basis. Interim leaders have issued orders calling for armed groups to hand over land and facilities to state authorities, and registration of former revolutionary fighters for recruitment and/or retraining is underway. It remains unclear whether armed groups will more fully embrace reintegration campaigns under the newly elected government.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured Libyan stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern in Libya and in neighboring countries. Security Council Resolution 2017 specifically addresses this threat. The Obama Administration is implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable certain types of weapons, including MANPADs. Non-government reporting indicates that arms depots remain unsecured. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

On March 12, 2012, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council extended the mandate of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for one year in order to assist the transitional authorities with security and administrative challenges. U.N. Security Council resolutions also set conditions for the sale of arms and training to the Libyan government and partially lift a U.N. mandated asset freeze for certain purposes. The U.S. Treasury Department has issued licenses that authorize the release of over $30 billion in formerly blocked assets belonging to Libyan entities.

As of August 2012, the United States government has provided more than $200 million in assistance to Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011, including $89 million in humanitarian assistance, $40 million for weapons abatement, and $25 million in nonlethal assistance from Department of Defense stockpiles. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.

Date of Report: August 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33142
Price: $29.95

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